In a world of limitless art supplies and boundless time and two year olds, I agree that there is no right and wrong. I believe in open-ended art and play. I encourage pretending and tinkering and open-ended conversation.
I do everything in my capacity to build my girls up. Not tear you down. Especially not with mockery and berating, but, I must admit, sometimes a finger shake. Right, Danjo, Miss Finger Shaker?
I've written before about grey areas and my desire to avoid making my children feel wrong, making you feel like there is only one right answer.
When we manage to teach children that there is a right way and a wrong way, they are learning something about black and white. They are learning something about their own judgement. They are learning something about rote and obedience. And I think none of it good, at least if the idea is to have them ultimately emerge from school as people who form their own ideas and have the courage to express them.
Certainly. I want you, my daughters, to be true to yourselves and to be courageous in your convictions and actions.
But, there's something about this approach to child-rearing that is too "perfect world" for me. Never offering guidance about "right" and "wrong" or communicating expectations of excellence.
Yes, in a perfect world, those are the children I would raise. Children who are self-motivated to learn and make good choices. Who don't hit each other because they understand that it hurts, who want to learn math because they understand its fascinating application to natural phenomenon. (Click on Teacher Tom's link about "obedience" above, for more on that. A whole 'nother post. Don't have time to go there now.)
But, in reality?
All the better, right? More reason to empower them, teach them to use their voices, express themselves fully, etc.
If I do so from an early age, there's no need for remediation, no need for you to be my age, questioning everything you do, no need to send you to an expensive, private, women's college to "find your voices." Ahem.
Yet, I still can't help feeling that I would be doing my specific children an injustice if I didn't teach you a little bit about conformity.
I know. I just said that.
Perhaps it's internalized racism, acceptance of the stereotypes of Asians as passive? Perhaps it comes from more fundamental beliefs, guided by generations of religion and culture, about what it means to be Filipino, to respect authority, to suppress the part for the good of the whole?
Or, perhaps, it's an acceptance of reality.
When you're a person of color, a woman of color (BAM! double whammy!), it's nice to think that the "rules" of society apply to you. Or that you can ignore them all together.
The fact is, you have to work ten times as hard. Look ten times more put together. And be ten times more strategic about your words and actions. Okay, those are not statistical "facts," but you know what I mean.
And that's not to mention the double standards: when a woman of color speaks her mind, she's a crazy, radical bitch. And no one listens to her anyway.
I was and am a conformist and have achieved my successes as such. Am I still afraid of mockery? Am I inhibited and fearful, as Teacher Tom would suggest? Apathetic, even?
You could say so.
I follow directions. Trust the wisdom of elders. And achieve what is expected of me.
AND I am a conscious member of society, a critical thinker. I'm opinionated, I speak out against injustice, I believe in relational change, am a sneaky, "back door" (for lack of a better term) activist. Let me in on the premise of borrowing a cup of sugar and you'll wish you never answered the door. Or, maybe, you'll have an open heart and mind, and your perspective will shift and the world will change just a little.
My personal experiences as an individual, a teacher in urban schools and now, a parent, have given me insight, not into the world I wish I was raising my children in, but the world that I am raising you in.
I was looking at a teaching position recently at a charter school that follows the American Indian Model. You can read more about that here, if you're interested.
This is an excerpt from a Q&A with the former principal that sets bells ringing in my head:
"You have such high expectations, both academically and behaviorally. Don't you think you should let kids be kids?
"Those are middle-class values. You're imagining kids going home from school and running around the neighborhood with other kids, playing hide and seek. This is not the reality for our students. If they aren't working hard and learning how to behave appropriately, they are getting swallowed up by the streets.
"Our model would not work in middle-class, white America. And we've never said that it would. Our model works for poor, urban minorities. And those who believe that poor minorities should be treated the same as middle class whites are fools. They have to work harder because they have farther to climb. They aren't starting out with the same advantages. They don't have family connections. They aren't going to have parents who can help them with their calculus homework. If they are going to have a better life, they are going to have to work hard for it - harder than those in the suburbs - and not just when they feel like it, but every day.
"Those who feel sorry for them, and want to "just give them a break" are dooming these kids to lives of poverty, crime, and incarceration."
My children are not poor. That is a privilege we recognize and do not take lightly. So the American Indian Model is not tailored for you girls, but there is some truth to be found for you. And for the children in our community. In the capitalist and corrupt, greed-run society we live in.
I'm not trying to perpetuate "bootstrap" myths; I'm not dreaming of turning my daughters or the children in my community into "the wealthiest 1%". I just want you to do your calculus homework, to live a life of success by your own determination, to be able to shelter and nourish yourselves and your families.
And I think that takes a little bit of conformity, an understanding of where one "sits" in societal terms of gender, race, sexuality, socio-economic status, etc. Conscious, also, of the privileges and the generations of shoulders on which we stand.
So, at the end of the day, my daughters can cut and paste and use mud to paint and we'll call it art, beautifully and wonderfully made. But, you'll also wear your shoes on the "right" feet. You'll be supported in learning about whatever it is that you love. But, you'll also go to school and learn the things that you might hate. You'll ask me questions and we'll wonder and talk about why adults say the things they say. But, you'll ultimately do what the teacher asks, because that is what will get you to the end of the semester. You'll have opinions and interests and convictions and courage AND a healthy understanding of reality.
Are those crazy expectations?